Category Archives: Performing Arts

Torn Apart

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Usually, at the end of a show, especially on Opening Night, the cast either cheers and wanders off stage after the bows or simply wanders off stage. But as Meg Reilly, the music director, and Josh Carnes, the drummer, went into the exit music, these kids clearly did not want to leave, and it only took a few moments for the first one to turn to the girl standing next to her and wrap her in a long, warm hug which spread like, well, AIDS in the early 1990s, to choose a show-appropriate metaphor. Only, of course, on a much, much more positive note.

Before the show, Kim Mancuso, the stage director of the play, had gathered us all together on stage for an Opening Night ritual that marked and acknowledged the importance of each and every possible relationship among us in pulling off this incredibly complex and powerful show. When Tom Geha, the lighting technician, and I returned to the tech table, he said, “You know, you probably don’t even think about it because you see them every day, but I was looking around and it really hits you how young they are.” Rent is an ambitious show for people of any age, but it is an exceptional challenge for teenagers and pre-teens (three cast members were seventh graders) to immerse themselves for three months in the world of New York City’s East Village in the early 1990s, when many of the starving young artists were HIV-positive and/or had come down with full-blown AIDS. In that context, it was perhaps even more of a challenge for these kids to put themselves out there on stage for all to see.

Yet, every single audience member I talked to said the same thing, that part of what made this show exceptional was the absolutely universal commitment to the show and to each other that was clear from the first entrance to the last onstage hug before they finally wandered off stage.

The other part of what made this show exceptional is the show itself. The script is raw and intense, fueled by the tension that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing which one of your friends might be the next to die, of trying to find happiness and live day by day as best we can. With the funeral of one of the most beloved of the main characters as the centerpiece of the second act, and the subsequent destruction or near-destruction of a number of the relationships, the second act is harrowing. I turned to Tom after the Saturday night performance, and commented, “That second act just destroys me every time, and more and more each time I see it.” I could see in his eyes even before he answered that he felt the same way.

Near the end of the show, the character Tom Collins sings, “I can’t believe you’re going / I can’t believe this family must die / Angel helped us believe in love / I can’t believe you disagree.” One of my seventh grade Humanities students wrote an independent writing piece after the final show that essentially echoed this sentiment. I wrote her in response, “This is beautiful – raw and honest and in the moment. It’s not polished, and quite honestly it probably shouldn’t be. / I will share this with you in reaction, something I sent out on Twitter a few hours after the show: ‘Hard to mix the 2nd act of #Rent with tears flooding my eyes but I did my best. @sbschoolorg kids did an awesome job with a powerful show.’ I think this one will stick with many, perhaps most, of us for a lifetime.”

“Rent,” of course, not only refers to the money the characters in this musical state in the title song that they are not going to pay – not last year’s, not this year’s, not next year’s. “Rent” also refers to the concept of being, literally, torn apart. In this case, fortunately, though perhaps emotionally shredded, the cast and crew of this musical were not torn apart.

This family, at least, will never die.

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Quite a Way to Go

“That Rock Band,” a parent said, shaking his head. Clearly searching for words, he added, “Wow.” It was not an uncommon reaction, and when I emailed my usual post-concert congratulations to the group, I told them about the moment and noted, “Yes, you performed that well; you literally left people speechless.” It’s true, from the first notes pounded out on the piano as they slammed through “Yoü and I” by Lady Gaga, through the last, sweet harmonies held over a cymbal roll and an echoing piano chord as they ended “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars et al, they were amazing, all of them: Bonnie, Charlotte, Heather, Jin, Joy, Joyce, McKim, Molly, Natalie, Olivia, and Susan. And when I pointed out that the vocalists wrote all the harmonies themselves, the speechless factor among audience members rose even higher.

This is just our first performance, just a few weeks into the year. While six members of last year’s group returned and one moved up from the middle school band, four were brand new, and one of those was a complete beginner to her instrument. Yet, they came together so thoroughly and so rapidly that we chose and began working on our next two songs even before the first performance, something we have only rarely been able to do in the past.

As I looked back on the performance with pride, my mind jumped to an evening at the beginning of this past summer. I was at a coffee house in Amherst, and two baristas were working the counter. While one of them was preparing my drink, he commented to the other, “I don’t like it when chicks cover songs.” So many responses sprang to my mind, of which one of the more polite was, “Even songs written by, umm, women?” but I was technically not involved in the conversation and stayed quiet. The other barista was clearly taken aback; after a moment, she said what seemed to be the only thing she could think of in response: “Really? Why?” He paused, far longer than anyone who had just made such a flat declaration had any right to, and came up with, “There’s just something wrong about it.”

Well. There it is, then. That clears that up! The other barista paused a while and went back to wiping down the countertop.

Earlier today, a friend shared on Facebook a link to a video of Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart performing “Stairway to Heaven” at a concert honoring the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. In her posting, she noted that the performance was so good it made Robert Plant cry, and indeed part of what makes the video so moving, beyond the incredible performance itself, is the interspersing of shots of the group members’ reactions to the song with shots of the performers themselves.

I don’t know what that one barista would think of this performance, if he came across it – whether it would simply confuse him and he would think Robert Plant a wimp, or whether it might actually penetrate his male privilege-addled brain deeply enough to make him rethink some of his beliefs. One hopes for the second, of course, but he had quite a way to go.

Family Weekend at our school is in many ways about elevating and honoring girls’ voices as we share what we get to see every day with families who get to see the effects of what we do every day. While the Rock Band performances exemplify what the school is all about, in no way are they the only example. Far from it, in fact – which is part of what makes our school so special.

Which makes it all the more sad that there are still people so deaf to women’s voices that they are literally missing half of what the world has to offer, and have no clue. And so, as we support these girls in bringing their voices to the world, we also work to support the world in shutting up long enough to open their ears and truly listen.

Because sometimes, speechlessness is good.


Filed under Gender, Performing Arts, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Not Long Enough

Spearth Day was born of a series of compromises, but has become one of the key dates in the waning weeks of our school year. Many years ago, the students asked for a special day to celebrate the mailman who played such an important role in their lives (today’s students, for whom email is old-fashioned and texting is routine, would probably find this odd). We called it “M and M Day” for “Mail Man Day,” and besides presenting him with a card and gifts when he finally showed, we played an all-school game of Capture the Flag and found other ways to celebrate. Over time, M and M Day evolved and became more organized – for one thing, the tradition of the talent show was begun. Meanwhile, earlier in the spring, Earth Day remained a day off for service – cleaning up local parks and rivers, clearing trails, and so on. The two days were eventually combined into one, and the name “Spearth Day” comes from “Spring-Earth Day.” We spend the morning doing various service projects on- and off-campus, have the Talent Show after lunch, follow that with games and booths organized by classes and clubs, dedicate the yearbook and pass out copies, and end with a barbecue. This year, for a special treat, there will be a dance performance by the Senior IB dancers.

Excitement always run high right before Spearth Day, especially when Wednesday immediately precedes it as that is our half-day of classes. The 7th graders spent Morning Meeting somewhat nervously tying up the few remaining loose ends in the preparation for their booth while the 8th graders set up a coverage schedule and worked hard to ensure they would have everything they needed. Early morning notes on the white board suggested the Community Service Club had done much the same the night before.

Sports are winding down (another reason for excitement as this is a major marker the year is actually starting to come to a close), and so Sophie and Clara, two of the 7th graders, were available and eager to accompany me to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. They laughed and sang and talked all the way there, assuring me they had to be the loudest group I’d ever taken (they weren’t far wrong, actually!). There wasn’t much to do on site, but they were cheerful and positive even when just folding laundry, and took the time to make friends with some of the cats. The ride back was just about as high energy as the ride out.

When we returned at 5:30, the school was sheltering in the basement as a tornado warning had been issued. So when the Wednesday night group of the Middle School Rock Bands showed up 20-25 minutes late for rehearsal (dinner had opened half an hour late and hey, they had to eat!), energy was even higher than usual – if possible! – for a Spearth Day Eve.

For the Spearth Day Talent Show, the group is performing “Microphone” by Martha, a second-year 8th grader. The song has rather whimsical lyrics (sample “Microphone, / You have a big head. / You have a cord. / And it is long.”) and a melody to match. At our first rehearsal of the song, I suggested a series of chords to which everyone agreed, and Aliana (who had played drums before during this year) taught Subin (who hadn’t) an appropriately whimsical drum part (Meredith on bass, Molly sharing vocals with Martha, and Ellie on marimba round out the group; Aliana is covering the piano part). The song is a little bit short, so at our previous rehearsal, we had rearranged it so the final chorus was repeated three times – once with instruments, once a cappella, and once more with instruments.

We ran the song twice – the second time because I had forgotten to time it, just to be on the safe side as we are limited to three minutes (lots of acts in this Talent Show!) before sailing into “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane, which we are doing next Thursday for the annual Middle School Music Performance. It is a beautiful piece with subtly shifting block chords in the piano anchored by a relatively straightforward backbeat. Subin was drumming again, Martha had shifted to the marimba, and though I normally play bass on this piece, I had to cover Molly’s piano part since her team was late back from a game. Somehow, Ellie, Aliana, and Martha had contrived to cover Meredith’s vocal since her Team Night had begun way late due to the tornado warning and so was going way late. Still, even with me faking the chord shifts that Molly alone knew by heart, and even with one less voice on the harmonies (which the girls themselves wrote), the song sounded gorgeous and as it sunk in that I had only two more nights with this group before they were done for the year, tears sprang to my eyes which I tried (successfully) to cover up because the girls were having so much fun.

In the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride,” Steve Martin in the title role tells his daughter on the night before her wedding, “Well, that’s the thing about life, is the surprises, the little things that sneak up on you and grab hold of you.” (IMDb) I know tonight is only the first of many such moments we’ll experience over the next two and a half weeks. It’s a way to mark how much these kids come to mean to us, and to each other. Of course, even those who are graduating and moving on will live on in my memory and in my heart. And they will have good company there, kids both past and future.

And meanwhile, I will savor every moment of the rest of the year. I know how lucky I am. And I am determined not to take it for granted. As, I am quite sure, are they.

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Filed under Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Songs in the Key of Life

(title taken from the title of Stevie Wonder‘s masterwork album, released in 1976)

There’s a new maturity in the Rock Bands, and I’m not the only one to have noticed. This year, we are performing more than we have in ages, and the pressure of nonstop shows seems to be helping us trust each other to work to get our parts right, listen closely and work together in rehearsal, and use the adrenaline that comes with performing to bring out our best. Preparing for this most recent concert was especially challenging as a number of group members were also involved in the winter play and so had to miss two weeks of rehearsals shortly before our own performance. But that circumstance has given me several moments I’ll remember through the end of my career and beyond.

Charlotte, on her first rehearsal of the Beatles song “Hold Me Tight” less than two weeks before the performance, relaxing into the song and dancing along. Mailande, a few days later joining that same group, leaning in to the bridge and focusing on getting every single note precisely in tune. Ellie, finding out she was not only playing piano on “You Give Love a Bad Name” but also had a solo, quietly digging in, sight-reading what she could, learning the flow of the song when she got to the parts she would have to practice, calling me over as needed to talk her through the part so she could learn it for our next rehearsal. And Kate, again with “Hold Me Tight,” taking on possibly the hardest bass part anyone has attempted in the 16 years I’ve been teaching the group, insisting not on perfection every single time but perfection at least once before the performance, smiling on her way out of rehearsal one night as I said, “Awesome job, Kate. It sounds gorgeous.” And these are just four examples. Every single person in the groups had at least one moment that made me think, “I am so lucky to work with these kids.”

During the performance, with all four groups, there was no hesitation in taking the stage, no last minute nervous questions before we got set. They sailed through the songs with confidence, and left the stage not with the half-stunned feeling of “Hey, we did it!” of earlier performances but rather with a sense of quiet accomplishment. The audience noticed, too. Along with the usual warm thanks and congratulations, one of the parents came up to me and observed, “They’re really coming together.”

Music, and the arts in general, bring so much to kids’ lives. Yet music is disappearing from public schools, forced out by the focus on testing, on meeting rigorous standards, on (if you’re a teacher) keeping your job and on (if you have any job in K-12 education) keeping your school open in the first place. This makes it all the more mystifying when a famous musician lends his name to the corporatist reform movement. In his piece “John Legend and the Well-Meaning Corporatists,” José Vilson writes, “Sadly, John’s legend in education will show a man who supports kids using pencils to bubble in scan-ready sheets rather than notes for the keys to their own lives.” (Vilson)

“Notes for the keys to their own lives.” That’s exactly what I want for all my students. It’s what all good teachers want for all their students. So, while I am appreciative of my good fortune in being able to teach music in my own special world, I feel I owe it to the larger world of education to advocate for the arts. The benefits of the arts should be clear. Even research – which would technically be included in the mass of data with which so many corporatist reformers are in love – shows those benefits. These kids are developing and using their voices. So must I. So must we all.

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Temporary Home

Earlier today, I moved the beanbags out of our classroom in the back of the library and into the Mac Lab. With Upper School exams taking place in the library, the sounds of happy, engaged 7th graders immersed in writing original plays were probably going to be less welcome than usual, so we were taking up a temporary home for the rest of the finals period. When I walked into class later in the day, the beanbags had been arranged in a tight oval between the rows of computers and everyone was curled up or sprawled out, backpacks and books and pencil cases and water bottles strewn wherever they had happened to land. “You all look so comfortable, ” I said. “Do we need to do an impromptu Morning Reading?” “Yes!” they all chorused, and I tiptoed through the library, past Ms. Nuno’s students bent over the exams, and grabbed my coffee-stained copy of “Ingathering” by Zenna Henderson so we could read further into the story “Wilderness.” I found a spot in the oval, opened the book, and began to read.

After approximately 15 minutes, we reached a stopping point and I asked the ritual, “Thoughts? Questions? Reactions?” – to absolute and total silence. “You want more, don’t you?” I asked, and several girls quickly answered with a heartfelt “Yes!” while one other student furrowed her brow. “I’m just worried that you all have enough time to get good work done on your plays,” I told the class, and her brow relaxed. After a bit of discussion, we agreed to continue with about seven more minutes of reading and then break into play-writing groups.

The reading completed, after a few last blissful moments of relaxation, all nine students stood up and grouped together in front of the computers. Within moments, they all had their plays pulled up, and each of the three groups began organizing themselves for the rest of the class. One group read through the latest additions to their play together they had done the night before, and then worked out a way for all three girls to be simultaneously writing at three different points in the play. Meanwhile, both of the other groups began discussing lines and plot points as all three groups neared the endings of their plays. Periodically, a sudden burst of laughter or specific request would float above the general, purposeful hubbub: “What would be a good name for a bank?” “Remember, we’ll have to act this out.” “I’m looking that up on Urban Dictionary.” “Hey, that’s my line!” “Guys, what would you think of an unexpected ending?”

At one point, Tod and Jason came to talk to me about some tech questions, and I joined them just outside the room in the corridor. Suddenly, the volume level from the room exploded, and I excused myself from Tod and Jason to stick my head in. The room instantly went silent and nine heads snapped around to look at me with these huge grins on their faces. “We weren’t doing anything!” several students offered, and with a familiar tightening at the corners of my mouth, I responded “Suuuuuure you weren’t!” as the corners tightened into a grin of my own. Then I walked around the room once, asking each group a question to help them refocus, and walked back outside, shaking my head gently.

Just before class, I had been sitting in one of the Jesser classrooms so I could be available to two of my French students who were checking their spelling of vocabulary words and verb conjugations. One of the other middle schoolers was going through her Chinese flash cards. At one point, they asked me what my next class was, and I said, “Humanities!” “Ohhhhh. We miss Humanities.” said the two 8th graders who were here last year, and I said, “Me too. I love all my Humanities classes. So I miss all my old Humanities classes. And every year, there are more to miss.” “That’s sad, “one of them said. “Not really,” I said. “They’re all cool, and after all, I realize that people grow up and that’s how things should be and if Humanities can be a part of that, so much the better.” She brightened, and asked, “Are we still your favourite Humanities 7 class of… 2011 to 2012?” “Yes.” I answered. “Of course. For always.”

While working on this blog, sitting on the floor in the lobby area of Jesser so I could keep an ear on all rooms where various levels of studying were taking place, I would periodically look up at the two 8th graders sitting across from me when they might say something particularly interesting or ask me a question. At one point, they said, “The year is going so fast! It’s too fast! Last year wasn’t this fast.” “Last year,” I noted, “you were in 7th grade and you knew you still had a whole 8th grade year between you and the upper school. This year – while you’ve still got a third of a year to go – you don’t have that cushion.” Their grateful faces longing for honesty and connection told me I had said the right thing, and we went on to discuss the ins and outs and ups and downs of growing up and of transitions, and how we would be supporting them and helping them make the transition as smooth as possible.

March, among other things, is National Middle Level Education Month. Young adolescents are all too aware that most people believe they are entering the time in their lives when they are at their most unlovable. But those of us who really know them, who actually spend time with them, know otherwise. With a series of video recordings of their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” safe in my iPad, the prospect of hearing the penultimate drafts of all their plays in a couple of days, the memory of my French students working so hard to get all the spelling exceptions down, the prospect of a high energy rock band rehearsal this evening, and the sure knowledge that even with vacation so close you can taste it and there’s last-minute work to finish and packing to do and friends to see, the students assigned to go to the animal shelter today for community service will faithfully be at Reception after school ready to head out… with all this in my mind, how could I not love them?

How could anyone?!


Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Performing Arts, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Seeing the Trees Within the Forest

Sometimes, you can’t see the trees for the forest. Especially when your eyes are deliberately closed.

As I wrote Sunday, I deliberately snubbed the Oscar awards that night, primarily because of their historic and current misogyny. After finishing up the piece but before publishing, I realized I had not referred to Hollywood’s historic and current racism. I chose to leave the piece as it was, little suspecting the dramatic extent to which the ceremony was illuminating and placing in relief those same shameful character traits of the movie-making industry and their effect on our national dialogue about race and gender.

Let’s start with the opening musical number. On a night when men got four times the Oscar nominations that women did, the Academy chose to open the show with a number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.” For the record, four of the nude scenes alluded to in Seth MacFarlane’s tasteless and voyeuristic song were rape scenes.

But then, mocking violence against women was something of a theme of the evening. In attempting a joke about the excruciatingly violent movie about slavery, “Django Unchained,” Mr. MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” Chris Brown, you may know has been accused of assaulting not only his girlfriend Rihanna (seen here in a painfully graphic image of that abuse) but also Frank Ocean, an R & B singer who came out recently as having had a homosexual relationship – and sure enough, there were anti-gay jokes too.

Stunningly, Seth MacFarlane’s humour did not represent the low point of the evening. That honour was reserved for “The Onion,” who posted – and later deleted – and much later apologized for – a tweet calling Oscar nominee Qudenzhané Wallis a crude and deeply offensive four-letter word often used to denigrate women (the original tweet is pictured here for those who haven’t seen it and want to know). Ms. Wallis, for the record, is nine years old – an age where even for the Oscars ceremony, she carried a puppy purse.

Meanwhile, the producers of the show, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron both stated they had no regret for including the “We Saw Your Boobs” number, and Mr. Zadan added, “You hire Seth MacFarlane, you want something to be cutting edge and irreverent.” (Zadan, quoted in The New York Times) Irreverent? Irreverent?!

As I understand it, the Academy is about 77% white male., so it is probably no surprise that a good deal of mansplaining and whitesplaining (thanks to my friend José Vilson for that term!) has been taking place attempting to explain away, minimize, and justify these attempts at humour that miss the mark so badly that one can easily be forgiven for having missed even the intention of humour in the first place (as I did with the “Onion” tweet). The misogyny is obvious to all but the most deliberately obtuse given the choice of words. The racism was equally obvious to many, but not all. Nonetheless, as Mr. Vilson points out – and it might be seen as merely a matter of bad timing though that seems highly unlikely – white child actors Dakota Fanning and Anna Paquin were not subjected to the same dehumanizing treatment inflicted on Ms. Wallis.

On Mr. Vilson’s Facebook page, Jennifer Dixey quoted her high-school-aged niece as having written, “If your humor is meant to be offensive, but you can’t deal with people being offended, your humor is probably about enforcing oppression.”

And with that comment, we’ve come a long long way from a ceremony meant simply to celebrate a form of entertainment – except that we really haven’t, as misogyny and racism are absolutely embedded in the movie industry. After all, they embraced Seth MacFarlane as host knowing what they were in for – and they defended him afterward.

This same weekend, in what seemed to be another world altogether, the girls of Stoneleigh-Burnham School presented a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that was absolutely stunning in its power. Jane as Prospera (the final “a” is deliberate) made every single syllable count for maximum emotional impact, Mary as Ariel made every single movement pure poetry, and Karen as Caliban had the audience in stitches simply through the guttural sounds she emitted before we even saw her. And these are just examples – every single girl in the play was strong and confident, and took an obvious pride in her performance. As the cast was leaving stage after the final bow, one of the 8th graders glanced out at the audience with a look that shone so strongly of pride, delight, and perhaps a mild surprise that my eyes watered.

That is what can happen when we give kids the love and respect they deserve. As Mr. Vilson put it, “Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration… [But] if we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.”

And I do believe we can. I do believe we must.


Filed under Gender, On Education, Performing Arts, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media


Annual discussions of whether making New Year’s resolutions serves any purpose, and if so how best to make them, are by now as much a part of New Year’s traditions as the resolutions themselves. But for those of us who teach, the chance to make mid-course adjustments is often irresistible. That tug may be especially strong in a year when many teachers report a more subdued holiday season than usual with the events of Sandy Hook so fresh in our minds.

The last day of school in December is usually a festive day, with the morning spent in classes, a holiday lunch with advisory groups, housemeeting with the faculty skit, an afternoon of athletics, packing, and relaxing, and the evening Winter Solstice Concert. This year was no exception, with perhaps one of the more touching examples being my French II class, which had voted to take their Unit 3 test the day before vacation rather than waiting until January and also decided to postpone the final day of in-class Secret Snowflake to add a special element of fun to the last class of 2012. They were all done by about 25 minutes into class, and one by one (or rather two by two) took off to their rooms, the school store, and other destinations so they could reconvene and take turns beaming at each other as they read cards and opened gifts.

Yet Sandy Hook was never far from our minds. On this, the third day of classes after the shootings, my seventh-grade Humanities class was suddenly ready to discuss it. In most cases, other students knew the answers to each others’ questions, and I filled in details as needed. They did a great job of distinguishing verified facts from what was possibly true, and processed their emotions together as well. My eight-grade Life Skills class made snowflakes, as requested by the Sandy Hook PTA, to send to decorate the children’s new school. And one of the middle school bands prepared to provide what would be one of the highlights of the day.

They had worked on an arrangement of the song “Titanium” by David Guetta et al. The arrangement was quieter and more contemplative than the hit version sung by Sia Furler, and the song’s theme of resilience against overwhelming odds gained depth and resonance. However, the lyrics refer explicitly to gun violence, and a mere five days after Sandy Hook, emotions were still too raw and the sense of shock too strong for us to be able to do it, even this arrangement, even sung by children. They were deeply disappointed, but understood and accepted graciously the decision to strike the song from the evening’s program.

Several hours later, one of the band members came up to me and asked if they could still perform that evening if they could find a song they all already knew. I said yes, provided I could learn the music in time and we could find time to practice. And so, at 3:30 that afternoon, we gathered in the gym with newly printed lyrics sheets for “Mistletoe,” performed and co-written by Justin Bieber, and began rehearsing. Greg Snedeker, the instrumental music teacher, joined us partway through to add a bass line, and after an hour’s work, we felt ready to go.

That evening, as the students and Greg set themselves on stage, I explained to the audience about the program change, our reasons why, and what the new piece would be. I won’t pretend the performance was flawless – for starters, I missed the second chord of the piece. But we hung together, the kids sounded great, and by halfway through the piece the audience, caught up in the spirit, began to clap along. They stayed with us through the end of the piece, and their applause was warm. Several people said they would keep a memory of the evening, one describing it as “a Christmas miracle.”

Sorting out facts, processing emotions, dealing with the need to do something, and affirming our common humanity are all common responses to tragedy. But, as countless people have written over the past few weeks, if that is once again where it all ends, then all the sound and fury will truly signify nothing. And, as countless people have also written, this will be a marathon and not a sprint. There are convincing arguments that we need a national conversation leading to action in the areas of gun control, the treatment and coverage of mental health issues, the cult of masculinity (and the supporting cult of femininity), and how best to protect our children. I also read a proposal for a new national War on Poverty as part of our response.

In short, we need to address the root causes of such horrific events in the long term as well as figure out the best course of action in the short term while we are working to better our world. It’s work that can quickly become overwhelming – how can each of us, as just one person, hope to accomplish all this? But at the same time, it’s work none of us need do all alone and all by ourselves. Each of us can find our own ways of addressing various issues which will intersect, overlap, and reinforce each other.

And so, as 2013 begins with that feeling of hope and promise that accompanies all new beginnings, let us rededicate ourselves, each in our own way, toward bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Performing Arts